One of the great things about travelling is that two neighbouring countries can be so different, even within a country like India from North to South (India’s incredible South) the landscape, people, culture and food is noticeably different. Some things remain the same though – the appearance of the towns/cities and the perpetual fine weather during February and March.
Compared to the relatively stable Hindu empires of the South, North India’s recent history has been shaped by Persian Muslim invaders, culminating in the Mughal Empire which ruled until the British arrived. After WWII Indian’s wanted independence from Britain (in no small part due to Mahatma Gandhi) and in 1947 they got it, resulting in the creation of Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan / Bangladesh (West Pakistan).
The 40 hour train ride north to Delhi arrived on time where I soon met Marius (a friend from New Zealand who would travel with me through northern India and Nepal), who had come down from Gulmarg in Kashmir where he had been ski instructing for the previous five weeks. We would begin our intrepid journey that would take us from New Delhi to Amritsar (near Pakistan border), to the Himalayan foothill village of Dharamsala (where the Dali Lama lives in exile), and finally the desert city of Jaipur.
The week in Delhi (which somehow got awarded the 2010 Commonwealth Games) flew by quickly as I had a lot of travel administration to organize for future travel (many of embassies for visas are located in New Delhi) but we did get out and enjoy sightseeing the various attractions of the center city. Many of the attractions are located between the India Gate and Rashtrapati Bhavan (the President’s residence) which is walking distance from the main bazar area near Connaught Place.
The rest of the time we would explore the various suburbs and streets, eating with the locals at either street vendors or their restaurants, normally ending the day with a mango smoothie! One last tip for the guys, one thing you must try if you get the chance, is to get a street side cut-throat shave.
A five hour train ride south west of New Delhi is Jaipur; in our opinion one of India’s best city to visit and forms one corner of the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Jaipur is the capital of the Rajasthan state which is predominately a desert state and is commonly referred to as the ‘Pink City’ on account of its buildings colour. You're definitely in India, but Jaipur’s old town definitely gives you an otherworldly feeling, like it’s a city out of Star Wars; the pink buildings, the strange sight of camels pulling carts along the street, while the local men sit around with white turbans and big mustaches.
The three major attractions of Jaipur has to be the Amber Fort complex (and the nearby Jaigarh Fort which overlooks the city), the architecturally impressive City Palace located within the city center and the world renowned Jal Mahal palace which sits in the center of the Mann-sarovar lake.
Be sure to try and enjoy a Lassie from a disposable clay cup, not bad from a sustainability point of view. As you travel around India you’ll get used to the auto rickshaw drivers and the tooting up and down the street will often come close to ruining any day’s sightseeing around a town or city by constantly being asked - “Hello, Sir, hello, rickshaw? Rickshaw?” It’s hard to be polite when it happens all day long.
The next destination on our intrepid journey through northern India was the former British hill-station of Dharamsala in the foothills of the Himalaya where the Tibetan Government and the Dali Lama live in Exile. Dharamsala lies at the foothills of the f the snow-capped Dhauladhar Range which offers the options going on day hikes to the top of the tree lined ridge behind the town for a closer look at the incredible Himalayas. Other than the hiking, Dharamsala is a fairly small and village with attractions for mainly for those interested or students of Buddhism. Despite expecting a quiet and tranquil experience, on account of the backpackers in the weekend, it can get quite rowdy.